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Tallying Tribes: Waikato-Tainui in the Census and Iwi Register

Julie Walling 1
Waikato-Tainui Tribal Development Unit

Desi Small-Rodriguez
Waikato-Tainui Tribal Development Unit

Tahu Kukutai
Stanford University and Tahatū Research


In the last decade iwi have begun to shift their focusfrom challenging the state to developing internal capacity. In so doing, the need for accurate, relevant data on iwi populations has been amplified. Using Waikato-Tainui as a case study, we examine the potential gaps between the statistical needs of iwi in a post-settlement context and the official data available to them. Our analysis uses two time points: 1996, shortly after the raupatu settlement, and 2006, the most recent census. Comparing data from the Waikato-Tainui register with those from the 1996 and 2006 censuses, we find significant variation in the parameters and characteristics of Waikato-Tainui in official statistics versus the tribe’s own register. We discuss some of the implications of these gaps and suggest ways in which the statistical needs of iwi could be better met. Our key recommendation is that the existing iwi question in the census be expanded to prompt for tribal registration status. This change would better align official data with the concept of membership used by iwi authorities and yield data that are more relevant for their policy and planning needs.


Since the early 1990s, iwi have made significant headway in their demands to be compensated for historical grievances relating to the alienation of land and other resources. The Waitangi Tribunal, a statutory body established in 1975 to make recommendations to the Government relating to breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, has heard the majority of these claims2. Since 1989, 23 settlements have been successfully negotiated, with numerous other claims in the process of being heard or settled (Office of Treaty Settlements 2008).3 Rather than proceed through the Waitangi Tribunal, some iwi, notably Waikato-Tainui, have opted to pursue negotiations with the Crown directly.

Regardless of the route taken, the settlement process has endowed iwi with significant resources in the form of natural resources (e.g. land, waterways, fisheries) and monetary compensation. As part of the process, a raft of iwi organisations have emerged as state-recognised actors to receive and distribute settlement monies and assume internal governance and policy-making functions. Post-settlement4 iwi such as Waikato-Tainui are now in a position to play an important role in improving the wellbeing of their members, both through internal capacity building and by influencing external policy formulation and service delivery. In order to do so effectively, however, iwi decision-makers need access to relevant and accurate information about their members. Without a reliable empirical knowledge base, decision-making runs the risk of being based on anecdote and misplaced judgement. In a post-settlement context we ask: How well placed are official statistics to meet the current and future needs of iwi?

Using Waikato-Tainui as a case study, we compare aggregate data from the tribe’s own administrative register with data on Waikato-Tainui from the 1996 and 2006 censuses. Most, if not all, iwi organisations have established their own iwi registers of enrolled members, either as a precursor to, or a condition of, settlement. The Waikato-Tainui register was initially created in the 1950s as an electoral register managed by the Tainui Māori Trust Board. The board’s successor, the Waikato Raupatu Lands Trust, is obligated to maintain the register as a requirement of the 1995 settlement with the Crown for the wrongful confiscation (raupatu) of tribal lands in the 1860s.5 Iwi registers have also been created to meet the requirements of the Māori Fisheries Act 2004, which requires that registered population numbers be taken into account when determining the settlement quantum.6

By comparing Waikato-Tainui register data with data from the census, our goal is to illustrate the potential gaps between the statistical needs of iwi in a post-settlement context, and the official data available to them. In so doing we pay particular attention to the ways in which iwi affiliation is conceptualised, measured and defined in the census, and how these features of tallying the tribe may be at odds with the criteria and processes used by iwi themselves. As the nation’s most comprehensive statistical stocktake, the five-yearly census remains the key source of information about iwi. A question on iwi affiliation was introduced in the 1991 census, in accordance with the Runanga Iwi Act 1990, after a hiatus of almost a century. In addition to the census, some government departments (e.g. Ministry of Education) have introduced national or regional strategies to collect iwi data in an effort to be more responsive to the needs of iwi organisations and service providers.7

Efforts by government agencies to meet the statistical needs of iwi have been generally well received, but there are several potential shortcomings of relying solely on official data. One relates to the potential mismatch between how iwi affiliation is conceptualised in official statistics and the criteria employed by iwi themselves. As we discuss in more detail, the conceptual basis of iwi affiliation in official statistics is through self-identification, whereas most iwi registers define membership through a whakapapa (genealogical) link to constituent hapū (clans) and/or marae (family groupings). This conceptual disconnect is problematic in that it may yield populations of different sizes and characteristics. For iwi organisations, their primary and often statutory obligation is to their enrolled members, and so there is a compelling incentive for them to have data that reasonably reflect the characteristics, experiences and needs of their affiliates. The need for data that are representative of iwi register populations also extends to external agencies tasked with servicing them.

Although our analysis focuses exclusively on Waikato-Tainui, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of iwi classification and enumeration in general. With some notable exceptions (Gould 1996, 2005, Lowe 1989) this is an area that has been largely neglected, in part because research and policy tend to be concerned with the size and characteristics of Māori as an ethnic group (Kukutai 2004). As iwi, along with Māori incorporations and urban Māori authorities, have become better placed to engage the economic, social and cultural development of their communities (Hui Taumata 2005), there is a growing need for a closer examination of iwi data.

We start by briefly examining the ways in which iwi data have been collected in the census. We then focus on Waikato-Tainui, and how the conceptualisation and measurement of Waikato-Tainui in the census aligns with the Waikato-Tainui register population. Our analysis uses data from two time points, 1996 and 2006, to approximate the pre- and post-settlement period. We conclude with a discussion of implications and suggest some potential strategies for better aligning official data with iwi needs.


The keen interest that many iwi have in official data is, in some ways, a departure from a history of “tallying tribes” that was coloured by Māori resistance or non-participation, and largely geared towards the interests of the state (Kukutai forthcoming). To fully appreciate the shift that has occurred in recent decades, a brief review of tribal enumeration is instructive.

The collection of data on iwi pre-dates official statistics. In the decades following the Treaty, missionaries conducted various “censuses” of Māori, often along iwi lines, for their own administrative and proselytising purposes. Such data frequently included the number baptised, as well as distinguishing men, women and children (Kukutai et al. 2002). Missionaries encountered many obstacles in their attempts to enumerate Māori, and so their efforts are best seen as “guesstimates” rather than a census in the modern sense. The 1858 census was the first official effort to conduct a systematic count of Māori, but another 16 years passed before a second Māori census was taken. From 1874 data were collected on “principal tribes”, with published data often disaggregated by “sub-tribes” (hapū) and “locality” (kāinga). The allocation of individuals to a single principal tribe was intended to simplify enumeration by linking people to a specific place, but overlooked the affiliations that most Māori had to a number of hapū and iwi.

Regional and temporal variation in the accuracy and completeness of iwi data arose from factors that included resistance by communities, the competence and familiarity of the sub-enumerators with their regions and communities, and physical accessibility (Kukutai et al. 2002, Lowe 1989). Opposition to census-taking was especially marked in areas where there was broad support for the Māori King Movement (e.g. Waikato and the King Country, see Lowe 1989), and where details of livestock and cultivations were sought. Until the turn of the century the Crown had a strong interest in monitoring iwi, particularly those that openly challenged its authority. The impetus to monitor iwi and hapū declined, however, as their structures were severely weakened through depopulation and land alienation – either through raupatu (like Waikato) or the workings of the Native (later Māori) Land Court. The collection of iwi data ceased after the 1901 census, though Māori continued to be separately enumerated from the rest of the population up until 1951, after which time officials considered that “special measures” were no longer required (Census and Statistics Department 1952).8

The rapid post-World War II urbanisation of Māori had major demographic impacts on Māori as a population (Pool 1991), and on iwi and hapū (Barcham 1998). From 1945 substantial numbers of Māori migrated from theirrohe(traditional tribal territory) into cities and towns, seeking employment in the post-war boom, assisted by government policies of relocation. Urbanisation had complex consequences, both positive and negative, but for iwi institutions the impacts were mostly of the latter sort. The establishment of tribal trust boards in the 1940s and 1950s provided a potential forum for the strengthening of tribal cohesion and identity, but many were challenged by the migration of members to other places, inadequate resources, and the constraints of meeting statutory responsibilities to the Crown. For a significant number of Māori, knowledge of their whakapapa and the importance accorded to those ties were either lost or severely attenuated. At the peak of urbanisation, Metge’s study of urban Māori found that the traditional tribal unit was “largely an abstract concept” that carried few advantages or obligations (1964:58).

However, since the 1980s, and particularly in the last decade, tribes have re-emerged as key institutions in Māori society and, to a certain extent, in national politics. The genesis of this shift can be seen in pan-Māori political activism that began from the late 1960s. A renaissance of Māori culture and language marked the beginning of a renewed sense of activism and self-empowerment among Māori, which included demands for compensation for breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. As the settlement process unfolded, the Government sought to transfer limited responsibilities and service delivery functions to iwi structures through legislation, notably the Runanga Iwi Act 1990. While the Act was repealed soon after its passage, the legacy of strong centralised corporate iwi structures remained (Barcham 1998).

The return to the practice of collecting data on iwi thus coincided with demands by iwi for increased political and social representation, and efforts by the state to legitimate iwi organisations as key mechanisms through which to realise Māori aspirations (for critiques, see Barcham 1998, Rata 1999). Given the impacts of urbanisation and the emergence of corporate tribal structures, responses to the census iwi question over the last 15 years are worth considering. Data for responses to the census questions on iwi and Māori descent for 1991 through to 2006 are shown in Table 1 below. We can see that both the number and proportion recording an iwi affiliation has increased consistently over the years. In 1991 368,655 people reported at least one iwi, representing 72% of the Māori descent population. By 2006 the number had increased to 535,233 representing 83%. Unlike the historical censuses that categorised people according to their principal tribe of residence, modern censuses have allowed for the reporting of up to five iwi. People who record more than one iwi are counted in each group; thus the sum of the various iwi groupings exceeds the sum of people recording an iwi affiliation.

Table 1 Reporting of At Least One Iwi and Māori Descent in the Census, 1991 to 2006

Indicator 1991 1996 2001 2006
Number reporting at least one iwi 368,655 426,234 473,460 535,233
Number reporting Māori descent 511,278 579,714 604,110 643,980
Per cent reporting at least one iwi 72.1 73.5 78.4 83.1

With the resurgence of tribal authority and the capital gained through settlements, a growing number of iwi organisations need reliable data on their constituents (for a critique of the use of official statistics in indigenous politics, see Rowse 2009). Such data are necessary for iwi to effectively carry out tribal governance functions and responsibilities, including developing internal policies, liaising with external service providers, and monitoring outcomes in important areas such as health and education. In addition to information on mainstream indicators, iwi also seek information that cannot be derived from conventional data sources (e.g. on tribal connectedness). To date, iwi have relied heavily on census data for information on themselves, much of which is collated in individual iwi demographic profiles compiled by Statistics New Zealand.9 The need for high-quality iwi data is not limited only to iwi that have settled claims with the Government. For those that are engaged in preparing a claim, census data provide a vital part of their empirical evidence base. For example, historical and contemporary census data have been heavily used to demonstrate the demographic impacts of land alienation on iwi populations (Kukutai et al. 2002).


In 1995 Waikato-Tainui reached a historic settlement with the Crown over the confiscation of more than 1.2 million acres of tribal lands taken under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863.10 The Waikato-Tainui rohe includes much of the Waikato region, and spans from the Rohe Pōtae (King Country) in the south through to South Auckland, and from the west coast to the mountain ranges of Hapuakohe and Kaimai in the east. The terms of the 1995 Deed only relate to members of the 33 hapū affected by the raupatu, which are listed in the fourth schedule. Most of those hapū are defined as Waikato by whakapapa, but some are more closely connected with other iwi in the Tainui confederation, namely Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Raukawa and Hauraki.

In 1998 a postal referendum of registered tribal members was conducted to decide upon an organisational form for managing the settlement. Under the new governance structure, tribal assets are held under the name of either the first Māori King, Potatau Te Wherowhero, or the landholding trustee. Strategic direction and governance are provided by Te Kauhanganui (the tribal parliament), comprising representatives from each of the signatory marae, along with Te Arataura (the tribal board). Tainui Group Holdings Ltd (TGH) manages the tribe’s assets, and the Waikato Raupatu Trustee Company Ltd pursues social development objectives set by Te Kauhanganui and Te Arataura. After a difficult start, Waikato-Tainui has reasserted itself as a significant economic force in the Waikato region, with total net assets of $488 million as at March 2008 (Waikato Raupatu Lands Trust 2008). In 2008, a tribal strategic plan, Whakatupuranga Waikato-Tainui 2050, was developed by Te Arataura and endorsed by Te Kauhanganui. It identifies four primary goals:

  • to support the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement)
  • to uphold tribal identity and integrity
  • to achieve success, particularly in education and training
  • to be socio-economically independent (Te Arataura 2008:4).

The Tribal Development Unit, established in 2006, has been tasked with developing programmes and policies that are consistent with the foregoing goals. In order to do so, there is a need for access to data that are accurate, relevant and robust.

Constituting Iwi and their members in statistics

We begin our comparison by examining the conceptual basis for determining iwi membership in the census versus iwi registers. The conceptual underpinning of iwi used in the census is set out in the Statistical Standard for Iwi 2005 (an updated version of the original 2000 classification, Statistics New Zealand 2005). The standard employs the widely used kinship hierarchy of waka, iwi, hapū and whānau. The standard notes that the inclusion of a particular social grouping as an iwi category is determined by taking various historical, cultural and legal factors into consideration.

On the New Zealand census, the iwi question immediately follows the question on Māori descent and is designed to elicit information about knowledge of iwi affiliation, rather than formal affiliation through registration status. In 2006 it asked, “Do you know the name(s) of your iwi (tribe or tribes)?”Respondents who checked the “Yes” box were instructed to “Mark your answer and print the name and home area, rohe or region of your iwi below”11 and were able to report up to five iwi. There were no pre-specified tick-boxes on the form, but a list of iwi was printed on the reverse. Affiliation with an iwi is based entirely on self-identification – it does not require knowledge of awhakapapa connection to a constituent hapū, marae or whānau, nor knowledge of rohe. Registration status is, for the purpose of the census, considered irrelevant.

How does the concept of iwi affiliation in the census compare with that employed by iwi themselves? Although each iwi has a unique process for registration on their tribal register, most require that registrants demonstrate their membership on the basis of whakapapa.12 In the case of Waikato-Tainui, individuals apply to join the register by completing an application form or, for children, are registered by a whānau member. The application form has space for three generations of whakapapa (up to great-grandparents) for both the maternal and paternal lines. In practice, two generations of whakapapa for the Waikato-Tainui parent is considered sufficient. Where both parents have a whakapapa link to one of the 33 hapū, details are only required for one, but applicants may opt to provide both. Applicants are also required to state their principal hapū and marae (whānau grouping). The application must be endorsed by a kaumātua (tribal elder) from the named marae, or a Te Arataura member before it is considered valid. Though whakapapa has historically been interwoven with various sorts of obligations and responsibilities to kin and communities, applicants are not required to demonstrate an ongoing connection to, nor involvement with, their marae, hapū or whānau. Because the meaning of whakapapa is not explicitly defined in the 1995 Deed, there is flexibility in how the boundaries are defined and enforced.

When comparing iwi registers with the census, there are not only differences in how membership is determined, but also in how iwi are constituted. The Waikato census count is derived using the aforementioned statistical standard (Statistics New Zealand 2005). Level 1 aggregates iwi responses to 11 iwi regions (e.g. Waikato / Rohe Pōtae region) and several residual categories (e.g. not stated); level 2 comprises 129 individual iwi categories as well as residual responses. In the case of the Waikato rohe, there are five broader iwi categories: Waikato iwi plus four others. The level 1 and 2 Waikato codings are shown in Table 2.

Table 2 Categories Coded as Waikato / Te Rohe Pōtae, 2006 Census, Total Responses

Code Waikato / Te Rohe Pōtae categories
03 Waikato / Te Rohe Pōtae (Waikato / King Country) Region
0300 Waikato / Te Rohe Pōtae (Waikato / King Country) Region, not further defined
0301 Ngāti Haua (Waikato)
0302 Ngāti Maniapoto
0303 Ngāti Raukawa (Waikato)
0304 Waikato

Although a list of iwi is included with the census form, respondents are free to provide any response they see fit. Consequently, Waikato iwi comprises the Waikato appellation in addition to 370hapū and place names. Some of these responses, such as “Waikato Tainui”, clearly indicate that the respondent self-identifies as descending from Waikato iwi. However, numerous responses that are coded as Waikatoiwi do not definitively demonstrate an intention to affiliate in that way. For example, names of places that are within the Waikato-Tainui rohe (e.g. Kāwhia) are coded as Waikato iwi, though residence within the Waikato-Tainui rohe does not necessarily indicate descent from Waikato iwi. A complete analysis of the coding of the iwi affiliation question is beyond the scope of this paper, but our preliminary analysis indicates that coding of New Zealand census iwi data is due for a substantial review.

In contrast to the census, the Waikato-Tainui register population is defined in terms of the aforementioned 33 hapū stated in the Deed which, in turn, cover 66 beneficiary marae (WRLT 2008). We compared the list of raupatu hapū with the coding list used by Statistics New Zealand to designate individuals to Waikato iwi and found several differences. The main difference is that seven hapū covered by the Deed are not designated as Waikato iwi, but are instead assigned to Ngāti Raukawa (Waikato), Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Haua and Waikato / Te Rohe Pōtae undefined.13 Furthermore, of the marae associated with the Deed hapū, only two (Turangawaewae and Makaurau) appear in the list of Waikato responses. Official data that ostensibly refer to Waikato iwi may encompass different people from those enrolled on the Waikato-Tainui register, with the potential to lead to substantial differences in the parameters and composition of the population measured.

Finally, differences are likely to arise from the inherently different nature of the census and the Waikato-Tainui register. The latter is a rolling database of members dating back to the early 1980s, while the census is a “snapshot” of those usually resident in New Zealand. Because register members tend to be for life (i.e. once registered, few people de-register), the register has an in-built mechanism for stability across generations, as children are added to the register and deceased members are removed. In contrast, the propensity to identify as Waikato in the census may wax and wane (see, for example, Lowe 1989).

Although there may be troubling conceptual differences between the way in which “iwi” is defined and measured on the census, there is no doubt that the resources and expertise available to Statistics New Zealand enable it to have superior processes and systems in place to reduce errors in terms of data collection, processing and outputs.14 For the register, the main source of error that may account for any disconnect is related to duplicate records, invalid applications, and the retention of deceased members. A recent quality check of the register undertaken before we extracted the sample detected 3,682 such records, representing about 6% of the total. It is also likely, given the problems with outdated address data (see footnote 17), that our sample included members who had moved abroad. Finally, proxy registering may mean that the register includes people who may have been added by a whānau member (e.g. a grandparent) but may not necessarily self-identify as Waikato-Tainui or record a Waikato affiliation in the census. However, it is unlikely to be a major factor given that proxy identification also occurs in the census, particularly for children (i.e. whose responses are recorded by their parents).

Comparing data from the census and Waikato-Tainui register

Notwithstanding the different definitions and processes employed, the question remains: How closely aligned is the official Waikato iwi population with that defined by the iwi’s own register? To answer this question we extracted data from the register for individuals who were registered at the time of each census and who had a “current” New Zealand postal address.15 For the census population we provide two sets of figures: one for the Waikato iwi alone and one for Waikato plus Ngāti Haua.16 The latter covers two of the seven hapūomitted from the official Waikato iwi designation.

Table 3 Comparison of Waikato-Tainui Register Population with Waikato Iwi Populations, Including and Excluding Ngāti Haua in the 1996 Census, Key Indicators1

Waikato-Tainui, tribal register2
N (%)
Waikato Iwi, 1996 census3
N (%)
Waikato iwi and Ngāti Haua (Waikato), 1996 census4
N (%)
Population size 22,685 23,808 26,136
Per cent male 11,209 (49.4) 11,262 (47.3) 12,390 (47.4)
Age group
0–14 7,153 (31.6) 9,204 (38.7) 10,149 (38.8)
15–29 7,334 (32.4) 6,402 (26.9) 6,993 (26.8)
30–44 5,192 (22.9) 4,611 (19.4) 5,049 (19.3)
45–64 2,450 (10.8) 2,913 (12.2) 3,204 (12.3)
65+ 509 (2.2) 675 (2.8) 729 (2.8)
Median age 25.5 20.6 19.9
Regional Council5
Waikato 10,707 (47.2) 8,850 (37.2) 10,062 (38.5)
Auckland 6,542 (28.9) 8,022 (33.7) 8,445 (32.3)
Bay of Plenty 1,435 (6.3) 1,395 (5.9) 1,497 (5.7)
Wellington 845 (3.7) 1,203 (5.1) 1,350 (5.2)
Other RCs 3,123 (13.9) 4,338 (18.1) 4,782 (18.3)
Per cent in North Island 21,415 (94.4) 22,164 (93.1) 24,279 (92.9)
Per cent in territorial authorities with at least 50,000 people 11,097 (48.9) (Unavailable) (Unavailable)
Total dependency ratio6 0.51 0.71 0.71
Youth ratio7 0.48 0.66 0.67
Masculinity ratio8 0.98 0.90 0.90


  1. Per cent of population with stated response for each indicator.
  2. Members registered by 5 March 1996 and who currently have a New Zealand address.
  3. Usually resident population reporting “Waikato” iwi, either alone or as one of several iwi.
  4. Includes all Ngāti Haua (n = 2,328), including those who may have also reported Ngāti Haua in conjunction with a Waikato response.
  5. Geographic location of individuals on the register was determined according to their address at the time the data was extracted in December 2008.
  6. (0–14 yrs + 65+ yrs)/15–64 yrs.
  7. 0–14 yrs/15-64 yrs.
  8. Males/females.

Table 4 Comparison of Waikato-Tainui Register Population with Waikato Iwi Populations, Including and Excluding Ngāti Haua in the 2006 census, Key Indicators1

Waikato-Tainui, tribal register2
N (%)
Waikato Iwi, 2006 census3
N (%)
Waikatoiwi and Ngāti Haua (Waikato), 2006 census
N (%)
Population size 46,542 33,429 38,352 (37,815)4
Per cent male 22,702 (48.8) 15,504 (46.4) 17,811 (46.4)
Age group
0–14 7,206 (16.2) 12,504 (37.4) 14,364 (37.5)
15–29 15,061 (33.8) 8,319 (24.9) 9,516 (24.8)
30–44 12,043 (27.0) 5
45–64 8,038 (18.0) 11,424 (34.2) 13,149 (34.3)
65+ 2,247 (5.0) 1,182 (3.5) 1,323 (3.4)
Median age 32 21
Regional Council6
Waikato 14,120 (46.7) 11,499 (34.4) 13,722 (35.8)
Auckland 8,511 (28.1) 11,469 (34.3) 12,435 (32.4)
Bay of Plenty 2,268 (7.5) 2,379 (7.1) 2,757 (7.2)
Wellington 1,337 (4.4) 1,713 (5.1) 2,106 (5.5)
Other RCs 4,024 (13.3) 6,369 (19.1) 7,332 (19.1)
Per cent in North Island6 28,875 (95.6) 30,885 (92.0) 35,415 (92.3)
Per cent in territorial authorities with at least 50,000 people6 16,929 (59.9) 20,730 (62.0) 23,304 (60.8)
Total dependency ratio7 0.27 0.69 0.69
Youth ratio8 0.21 0.63 0.63
Masculinity ratio9 0.96 0.87 0.87


  1. Per cent of population with stated response for each indicator.
  2. Data were extracted for the population residing in New Zealand as at 7 March 2006.
  3. Usually resident population recording a Waikato iwi response, either alone or as one of several iwi.
  4. The figure in brackets excludes people who recorded a Ngāti Haua response in combination with a Waikato response.
  5. Data only available for combined 30−64 age groups.
  6. Geographic location of individuals on the register was determined according to their address at the time the data were extracted in December 2008. Geographic location of tribal members excludes individuals whose records were marked “mail returned” (i.e. a tribal mail-out to that member had been returned to the register administrator at some stage).
  7. (0–14 yrs + 65+ yrs)/15–64 yrs
  8. 0–14 yrs/15−64 yrs
  9. Males/females.

Focusing first on size, Table 3 shows that the register population in 1996 was only slightly smaller than the Waikato iwi population enumerated in the census (22,685 and 23,808 respectively), and about 90% of the size of the combined Waikato/Ngāti Haua grouping. In terms of composition, however, the Waikato register population was significantly older, far more heavily concentrated in the Waikato Regional Council area,17 and more evenly balanced in terms of its sex ratio. In 2006 the differences between the census and register populations were even more striking. First, the latter more than doubled in a decade to reach 46,542, making it about 30% larger than the Waikato census population (n = 33,429) and 18% larger than the combined Waikato / Ngāti Haua grouping (n = 38,352). This is remarkable, given that the Waikato census population increased by almost two-fifths over the same period.18 To put these growth trajectories in perspective, the Māori descent population (those reporting Māori ancestry in the census) and the Māori ethnic group (those reporting Māori ethnicity, either alone or in combination) increased just 11% and 8% respectively over the same period.

The geographic distributions of both the register and census populations closely resemble those in the 1996 census, with a vast majority of registered members concentrated in the Waikato and Auckland areas, and slightly more likely to be living in territorial authorities with at least 50,000 people. For both populations, the masculinity ratio decreased over the decade and was significantly lower than that for the total New Zealand population (0.99). The age structural differences between the Waikato register and census populations were even more apparent in 2006, with only 16% of the register population aged 0–14 years, compared to one-third of the Waikato Census population. The older age structure of the Waikato register population departs from all the empirical evidence on Māori populations and sub-groups showing Māori to have a much younger age structure than New Zealand Europeans and the national New Zealand population. The older age structure of the register population is likely to be due, in part, to the historical nature of the register – as a voting roll – and the age-specific incentive structure of benefits associated with the settlement (e.g. tertiary educational scholarships, kaumātua grants, sports grants). The under-representation of young people is apparent in the extremely low youth ratio (ratio of children to the working-age population), which indicates the proportion of children that require support relative to those at working ages (the total dependency ratio extends this concept to include the retired). For various reasons too complex to elaborate here, a low dependency ratio is considered desirable, especially in terms of economic productivity and development. However, in the case of the register population, the low ratios are largely the product of under-registration at the younger ages.

Using data for 10-year age groups, Table 5 shows that the massive increase in Waikato-Tainui membership over the decade was unevenly distributed across age groups. In 2006 the number of members aged 0–9 years actually decreased, though this may be due in part to the pattern of missing date-of-birth data for those who joined after 1996. In contrast, the cohort aged 0–9 years in 1996 that was aged 10–19 years in 2006 more than doubled, from 4,601 to 10,236. This points to the potential effects of incentives such as tertiary education scholarships.

Table 5 Cohort Gain between March 1996 and March 2006, Waikato-Tainui Register Population

Age group 1996
% gain*
0–9 4,601 2,456
10–19 5,058 10,236 122.5
20–29 4,828 9,575 89.3
30–39 3,837 8,421 74.4
40–49 2,282 6,713 75.0
50–59 1,171 3,843 68.4
60–69 621 1,988 70.0
70+ 240 1,363

* (pop. x+10, t+10 – pop. x, t )/ pop. x, t * 100 where x = age, t = year.

To summarise, Tables 3 to 5 show clear differences between the Waikato register and census populations. There are several factors that may account for the divergence, beyond the conceptual and procedural differences already noted. In terms of the size difference, one could point to the exclusion of five of the Deed hapū from the Waikato / Ngāti Haua grouping or, equivalently, the inclusion of “non-Waikato” hapū in the register population. If we simply define the register population using the standard classification definition of Waikato iwi we get 31,043, which is much closer to the census count. However, the definition is obviously not consistent with the terms of the Deed, and the population composition will still vary because a good number of people will self-identify as Waikato in the census but not be registered, and vice versa.

For reasons already noted, there are far greater incentives for people who are adults or approaching adulthood (i.e. pre-tertiary ages) to join the Waikato-Tainui register than there are to self-identify as Waikato on a census form. Social-psychological factors may also play a role in encouraging people to join the register. Since the settlement, the public profile of Waikato-Tainui has grown exponentially through media coverage, development initiatives, branding (e.g. Radio Tainui, Novotel Tainui) and a diverse range of activities explicitly devised to foster Waikato-Tainui identity and cohesion. These include flagship events like the year-long 150th Kīngitanga celebrations, to waka ama and kapa haka competitions, rangatahi (youth) summits and the Tainui sports awards. In many ways the settlement has created new public frames for Waikato identity and a potentially important catalyst for people who have always had a whakapapa connection, but who either did not know about it, did not care, or for whatever reason felt unable to legitimately claim it. We also note that, compared to tribal registers in other countries (e.g. the United States and Canada), the criteria and processes used to delimit tribal membership in New Zealand are relatively inclusive. Iwi are more interested in expanding rather than limiting their membership base, which may be due, in part, to the fact that most members do not systematically and directly benefit financially from settlement proceeds (e.g. through annual dividends).


In a post-settlement environment, iwi are increasingly turning their attention to investing in measures to improve the short- and longer-term wellbeing of their constituencies. To successfully accomplish these goals, Waikato-Tainui and other iwi require accurate and robust data on their registered tribal members to make informed policy decisions. However, as we have shown, disparities between the conceptualisation and operationalisation of iwi have the potential to generate substantial differences in the parameters and composition of the populations measured, which potentially limits the utility of census data for iwi organisations.

Given our findings, we suggest that the collection of iwi data in the census may be better aligned with the needs of iwi organisations by modifying the iwi question in the census. This could be achieved by expanding the question to include registration status in addition to self-identification.19 We acknowledge that there will always be some degree of mismatch, because some people erroneously believe they are registered while others are registered without their knowledge. However, prompting for registration status will at least conceptually bring the census question closer to the notion of iwi membership currently used by tribal registers. Moreover, there should also be flexibility for iwi authorities to have access to data that are aggregated according to their register boundaries, rather than those defined by the standard classification, which may be a poor fit.

Finally, although the census and other official administrative data collections have provided a welcome source of information about and for iwi, agencies tend to collect data that more often reflect their interests and needs rather than those specific to iwi organisations. There are various topics that iwi are interested in (e.g. tribal identity and connectedness) that government agencies either have little interest in or lack a suitable mandate to collect data on. In the case of Waikato-Tainui, the foregoing issues have motivated efforts to undertake a Waikato-Tainui social survey, conducted internally with assistance from external experts. It is hoped that the survey will fill some knowledge gaps on Waikato-Tainui that are not currently being met by existing data sources and will elicit information that is more closely linked to tribally determined development goals. In the longer term, however, iwi lack the resources to conduct ongoing surveys and, realistically, will continue to depend greatly on official statistics for information about themselves. Thus, it is important that official data on iwi are regularly revisited to ensure the data collected are well aligned with those for whom they are intended.


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The authors warmly thank Marae Tukere and Hemi Rau, who have provided ongoing support for this research; Teeny Tukere and Moera Solomon, who generously shared with us their knowledge of the history and development of the register; and Whetu Simon, who extracted the tribal register data. The authors also thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments. Any errors of fact are ours alone.
Desi Small-Rodriguez, Waikato-Tainui Tribal Development Unit, Private Bag 542, Ngaruawahia, New Zealand 3742; or email

2 The Treaty, signed in 1840 between Māori tribes and the Crown, has been described as the Māori “magna carta” (McHugh 1991). Many contemporary debates relating to the Treaty have centred on differences between the Māori and English texts, and the key question of whether Māori ceded sovereignty or governorship. The jurisdiction of the Tribunal was initially limited to breaches that occurred after its establishment, but in 1985 it was given the power to hear claims retrospective to 1840.

3 We note that several of these claims were for “large natural groups”. A large natural group is usually an iwi or a cluster of hapū with a significant population and a large, distinctive claim area.

4 Waikato-Tainui completed its raupatu settlement in 1995 and recently signed a deed with the Crown regarding the Waikato River. Non-raupatu land issues and west coast harbour grievances have yet to be addressed.

5 The purpose of the tribal register, as defined by the 1995 Deed Creating the Waikato RaupatuLands Trust, is to keep “a record of each person who is a member of Waikato iwi by descent from one of thehapuu referred to in the Fourth Schedule, who is a beneficiary of a Marae, who provides his or her date of birth and his or her parent line and whakapapa” (Tainui Māori Trust Board 1995:9).

6 The Māori Fisheries Act 2004 states that the settlement quantum is based in part on the notional iwi population as a percentage of the notional Māori population, as detailed in Schedule 3 of the Act. Iwi were required to create registers that contained a specified number of registrants in order to receive the allocated settlement quantum. Waikato was stated to have a notional population of 46,526 but only needed to have a registered population of 9,300 tribal members to meet the settlement requirements. In 2004 the Waikato-Tainui tribal register had well in excess of 9,300 members, and so the fisheries settlement is unlikely to have been a substantial motivator for tribal members to join the register.

7 Seventy-eight iwi organisations were listed on the Tuhono consent form sent to people of Māori descent during the 2006 Māori electoral option. Tuhono, the Māori Affiliation Service, was legislated in 1997 with the explicit goal of putting individuals of Māori descent in touch with their mandated iwi organisation.

8 From 1945, iwi data were collected sporadically in relation to the Māori Electoral Roll (see Lowe 1989).

9 Ownership of the profiles rests with the individual iwi rather than Statistics New Zealand (Statistics New Zealand 2005).

10 Waikato grievances relating to raupatu were first heard by the 1926 “Sim Commission”. This Royal Commission found the confiscation of Waikato lands had been excessive and awarded an annual annuity of 3,000 British pounds. Dissatisfied with the result, Waikato-Tainui entered further negotiations, and the annual payment increased to 5,000 pounds in 1946, to be managed by the newly established Tainui Māori Trust Board. Dialogue between Waikato and the Crown resumed in 1989 and developed into full negotiations in the early 1990s, resulting in the 1995 Deed of Settlement (Ministry for Culture and Heritage 2007).

11A sample form from the 2006 New Zealand Census of Populations and Dwellings can be found online at:

12 Most, if not all, iwi employ the concept of whakapapa to define their populations, specified to between two and four generations. The Ngāi Tahu register differs in that applicants are required to demonstrate a whakapapa link to one of the Ngāi Tahu ancestors listed on a census undertaken in 1848 (known as the “Blue Book”). Unlike many of the registers for Native American tribes or indigenous Hawaiians, iwi do not employ blood quantum criteria to determine membership. Historically, statistical and some legislative definitions of Māori referred to “half or more Māori blood”, but these have since been replaced with the concepts of self-identified Māori ethnicity (i.e. cultural affiliation) or Māori ancestry.

13 The hapū were: Ngāti Apakura (defined in the standard as Waikato / Te Rohe Pōtae not further defined), Ngāti Haua and Ngāti Wairere (Ngāti Haua Waikato); Ngāti Ngutu and Ngāti Paretekawa (Ngāti Maniapoto); and Ngāti Korokii and Ngāti Raukawa ki Panehākua (Ngāti Raukawa Waikato).

14 In passing we note that the date of birth is missing for 4.2% of the register population (as at 2006), about the same as the proportion of the population for which age had to be imputed in the 2006 census (see age variable, available

15 Like most administrative registers, the Waikato-Tainui register does not have a reliable mechanism for updating the contact details of its members, and only the most recent address is stored. Consequently the geographic location of members at the time of the census is approximated by using their postal address stored in the database in December 2008, when the samples were extracted. This means we may have included people who lived in New Zealand when they joined the register, but who resided overseas at the time of the census.

16 To statistically assess whether Ngāti Haua should be included with the Waikato census population, we compared the proportions in the register and census, using the definition of Waikato employed in the iwi standard classification. This yielded a 2006 register population with a “current” New Zealand address of 31,043. Members who reported Ngāti Haua as their principal hapū comprised about 16% of the Waikato plus Ngāti Haua population. In the 2006 census, 4,923 people recorded a Ngāti Haua response, but of those, 537 (11%) also recorded as Waikato. Excluding the latter, Ngāti Haua comprised nearly 12% of the Waikato plus Ngāti Haua population in the census (4,386/(4,386+33,429)*100). We also made similar comparisons for Ngāti Raukawa (Waikato) and Ngāti Maniapoto. We found that the Maniapoto share on the register was far below that in the census (4% versus 48%), which is to be expected given that only a small portion of Maniapoto were covered by the Deed. For Raukawa, the proportions were 14% and 18% for the register and census respectively. For purposes of clarity we did not include the latter in our tables.

17Spatial comparisons ought to be treated with some caution. At the time of writing, approximately two-fifths of registered tribal members were marked as “Mail Returned”, indicating that mail had been sent to their current postal address but had been returned to sender. The use of postal address as a proxy for place of residence may skew the distribution toward the Waikato region if, for example, highly mobile members give a permanent homestead address, and these homesteads are more likely to be located in the Waikato.

18Note that the 1996–2006 growth was not monotonic, but saw a huge spike in the period immediately following the deed (50.3% increase 1996–2001), and then a slight decrease 2001–2006 (6.6%). The decline is unlikely to have been driven by out-migration (to Australia, for example) or natural decrease (excess of births over deaths), but was more likely due to shifting identification patterns. Of the 10 largest iwi, Waikato-Tainui also had the highest inter-censal growth rate for 1996–2001, so it may not be surprising that there was a decline in the subsequent census.

9 In the U.S. census, tribal information is elicited partly on the basis of registration status. In the 2000 census, the “American Indian and Alaska Native” tick-box for the race question was immediately followed by the prompt “Print name of principal or enrolled tribe.”

Cover photo of Social Policy Journal


Social Policy Journal of New Zealand: Issue 36

Tallying Tribes: Waikato-Tainui in the Census and Iwi Register

Aug 2009

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